Primark expands Sustainable Cotton programme to Pakistan

EXCLUSIVE: Primark has announced it is expanding a sustainable cotton sourcing programme to key suppliers in Pakistan, after more than 4.4 million pairs of pyjamas made with the cotton were sold by the retailer in the UK over the last 12 months.

The pyjamas made using the sustainable cotton were one of the first products placed on Primark shelves with a clearly labelled sustainability message attached

The pyjamas made using the sustainable cotton were one of the first products placed on Primark shelves with a clearly labelled sustainability message attached

Primark’s Sustainable Cotton programme was originally launched in Northern India in 2013. With more than 6,000 independent cotton farmers enrolled in the programme in the country, Primark is extending the initiative to farmers in Pakistan.

Speaking exclusively to edie, Primark’s ethical trade and environmental sustainability director Katharine Stewart said: “I’m genuinely excited that we’re going to be starting up in Pakistan. We’ve learnt so much from the work in India, but we know that each country is going to have a different context, opportunities and challenges that we’ll need to address.

“Our suppliers are buying the cotton, and we’re not procuring it on their behalf. We’re encouraging them to buy materials as close as possible to where they’re manufacturing and for us, it's really key that everything is as efficient as possible. To support the factories, we knew we would have to put the programme into that region.”

Primark is working with CottonConnect - agricultural experts that also worked with the retailer to assist Indian farmers – and local NGO REEDS (the Rural Education and Economic Development Society), to introduce the programme into Pakistan.

Pakistan is the world’s fourth-largest cotton grower. Combined with textiles, cotton accounts for 55% of its foreign exchange earnings. Primark has enrolled 20,000 farmers from the country onto the sourcing programme. By 2022, Primark envisions that more than 30,000 farmers across Pakistan and India will be trained in sustainable farming methods.

Closer to home, Stewart claimed that the women's pyjamas made using the sustainable cotton were one of the first products placed on Primark shelves with a clearly labelled sustainability message on the packaging. In fact, one in three pairs of women’s pyjamas purchased in the UK comes from Primark.

Stewart revealed that once the crops in Pakistan are ready, Primark can start to expand the product categories that use sustainably sourced cotton.

However, the company isn’t going to “make a huge song and dance” about the issue to consumers, instead focusing on improving transparency and practices across the supply chain.

Transparent teachings

So far, more than 6,000 farmers have benefitted from training through the programme, which has helped rural female farmers in India increase average profits by 200%. The programme trains farmers to minimise their environmental impact while boosting income through aspects like seed selection, pest management and grading and storing of harvested cotton.

As well as reducing input costs for farmers by more than 19%, a 40% reduction in the use of chemical fertiliser and a 10% decrease in water use has benefitted the local environment. 

Primark announced in March 2016 that it was scaling up the initiative to recruit a further 10,000 female smallholder farmers in India onto the programme over the next six years.

Stewart noted that the Sustainable Cotton programme was a key pillar of a transparency drive for Primark that would enable it to strengthen links to suppliers and future-proof value chains against climate-related challenges.

Earlier this year, Primark published a Global Sourcing Map detailing information on supplier sites - covering factory names, location, number of workers and gender split – across 31 countries. Stewart claimed that supply chain transparency was a “critical agenda”.

Mapping supply chains can be a difficult task, and Stewart highlighted the role that collaboration can play in generating change across suppliers – some of which will be selling to numerous consumer-facing firms.

“The industry has got better at understanding that one of the ways we’ll improve is collaboration,” Stewart added. “These aren’t company-specific issues and we need to collaborate further down the supply chain to leverage change.”

Primark is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), has invested significant sums into the Bangladesh Accord and works with the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Group (ZDHC) to improve environmental stewardship and human rights across the value chain.

Matt Mace


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